President Barack Obama’s last State of the Union address had scarcely finished when the opposing Republican Party accused him of being out of tune with reality. Their reaction, although predictable, shows how deep the country’s political tear runs between the two ideologically unbridgeable factions.
A break between them is nothing new. Back at the Democratic Party’s convention of 1984, the then governor of New York, Mario Cuomo, reproached President Ronald Reagan for having a short-sighted vision for the country. At that time, Reagan boasted about leading an “exceptional” nation, which he referred to as “the shining city upon a hill” that did not need any major changes, just a few minor adjustments, because, in his mind, the poverty of a few was merely a reflection of their weakness of character.
Countering that vision, Cuomo saw Charles Dickens’ “Tale of Two Cities” within the nation’s history. It was a land in which there existed two realities: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”
In 2015 these two visions are still at odds. While the Republicans continue to defend the right of the rich to get richer by the day, the Democrats are worried about the growing inequality. In the United States, the richest 1 percent accounted for 95 percent of the economic growth after the financial crisis between 2009 and 2011, while the 90 percent with the fewest resources have become poorer during this same time period.
This is precisely the context of a presidential speech advocating economic justice by taking away the richest Americans’ tax benefits and giving them to middle class families. A speech in which Obama proposed that two years of community college should be free and in which he posited tax reductions for families so they can get access to child care.
He also advocated a law that would guarantee the same salary for women who do the same work as men, and he challenged reluctant congressmen to raise the minimum wage and try to provide for their families with a salary of $15,000 a year. In light of the fact that the United States is the only developed nation that does not guarantee a paid leave for illness or maternity to more than 43 million workers, Obama suggested passing a law that offers seven days of paid leave for illness. He also announced that he would not go back on his agreement with China regarding climate change to reduce carbon pollution and Chinese emissions.
Obama has gotten the nation out of the economic hole George W. Bush, his predecessor, had left it in, and today the economy is growing and creating employment at its fastest rate since 1999. Unemployment rates are lower than before the financial crisis and millions of people now have medical insurance. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have come to an end and, after more than half a century of erroneous politics, relations with Cuba have been renewed.